History and spirituality walk together in Varanasi. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, the place where is believed that Buddha lived and founded the Buddhism, Varanasi is not for the easy type traveler. Get ready to walk in narrow, dirty and smelly alleys as you have to carefully pass by cows, monkeys and watch your step for the cow poop. With that said, if you are not into spirituality or history, Varanasi is not for you. If you are truly an explorer and want to literally breathe the birth of  Hindu culture, Varanasi offers a remarkable opportunity to experience these traditions firsthand.

It was an overwhelming experience, but also incredibly cool and unique. For us, it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We witnessed sights that we may never see again unless we return to Varanasi. A full day was sufficient to soak in the essence of the city. We arrived around 4 pm, and it took us a couple of hours to navigate through the busy traffic and reach the old town area. Beyond a certain point, cars were no longer able to pass due to the congested roads. It was quite chaotic. So, we decided to switch from our taxi to a two-seater taxi bike, which allowed us to reach  our hotel. Walking through the narrow alleys was a bit intimidating. It’s challenging to put into words just how different and unique it was compared to anything we had experienced before. The streets were dirty, with cows, monkeys, and cow dung dotting the surroundings. It was wild, yet surprisingly safe. Strolling through these streets offered us a glimpse of things we definitely don’t encounter in our everyday lives, or have ever seen before. We stayed near the Ganga, the sacred river where life unfolds in all its aspects. Here, we witnessed cremations, baby blessings akin to baptisms, and a myriad of other peaceful life events. This is a truly holy place.
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This man sells hand crafted cigarettes near the sacred river Ganga in Varanasi
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Ganga river

We had the pleasure of meeting a local named Vishal on the streets, and he turned out to be incredibly helpful. He offered to show us around the city the next day in exchange for a donation, which we thought was a really cool gesture on his part. As time went on, we realized how grateful we were to have him by our side. Without his guidance, it would have been challenging to navigate through the overwhelming amount of information and truly absorb everything around us. Varanasi is a city deeply rooted in history and spirituality. To truly grasp the essence of the city and its people, and to appreciate it amidst the chaos, having a local who was born and raised there to provide insights and information was very important. Exploring the city with Vishal made us feel much more comfortable and secure. Speaking of safety, Varanasi is generally safe. While you may encounter people offering you various things persistently, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming, but neither of us ever felt unsafe. The prolonged staring can be a bit disconcerting at first, as someone may look at you without blinking for minutes or until you leave the area. It can be intimidating. Children might approach you and ask to take pictures, but it’s just part of the culture. Don’t be afraid though. It’s also worth noting that you may look different from most visitors since Varanasi, due to its holiness, attracts many Indians from all over the country. Many tourists from different countries never make it to Varanasi, so it’s a unique experience.

We had a full day to explore the city and this was enough time to check out all the main spots of Varanasi. The highlight of the visit to Varanasi definitely was the Golden Temple or Kashi Vishwanath, the holiest Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. It has huge gold-plated domes and if you go to Varanasi you gotta go there. Once we walked in the temple we could feel something very powerful, there is a strong energy that surrounds that place and I can tell that everyone that was there could feel it too. It was incredible and very peaceful. Tourists couldn’t visit this temple until 4 months ago so I guess we are lucky to be able to visit such an incredible place. Our tour guy took us there and helped us with everything we needed in order to get in the temple. Taking offerings to the gods is a sign of respect so he made sure we had everything in order to be respectful. A local priest was arranged for us to be taken in privately.  The temple is heavily guarded so bring your passport because you will need it to get in.
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The narrow alleys of Varanasi seen from the top.

Continuing our journey through the bustling and narrow alleys of Varanasi, it felt as though we had stepped back in time to the 1800s. The streets were teeming with animals, and the locals adorned themselves in vibrant colors. It was an incredibly exotic and dream-like setting, truly a paradise for any photographer. Every corner we turned held a surprise, making it the perfect destination for adventurous explorers. We thoroughly enjoyed engaging with people, striking up conversations, and extending a friendly handshake. After establishing a connection, I would politely ask for permission to take their picture. Fortunately, most of them graciously agreed, allowing me to capture a one of a kind moment in our travels we will never forget. In return, I offered any assistance I could, as many of the locals are living in poverty, and any form of help is greatly appreciated. We kept walking towards the Ganga river, where we saw people bathing in the water.  Some of them even drink the water straight from the river.

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People preparing to bathe in the Ganga river.

Afterward, we ventured to one of the renowned ghats in Varanasi. These ghats are temples located along the riverbank, where cremations take place with bodies wrapped in golden fabric. It is a belief held by Hindus that the souls of the departed find salvation when their ashes are scattered in the holy river. Friends and family watching the ceremony are not allowed to cry, instead they are happy their loved ones found salvation  Some of these ghats have stood for thousands of years, lending an air of profound significance to the experience. It can be quite overwhelming to navigate these rituals independently, so having a knowledgeable tour guide is highly recommended throughout Varanasi. Along our journey, we also had the opportunity to explore some fascinating spots, including the Kamasutra temple. The temple’s exterior boasts intricately carved wooden columns adorned with depictions of various Kamasutra positions. It was an incredibly unique and visually captivating sight, definitely a must-visit for anyone in Varanasi.

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